Benefit From Knowing the ‘Realtor Advantage’

As you probably know, not all licensed real estate agents are “Realtors.” To be a Realtor, one has to be a dues-paying member of a local Realtor association, which automatically makes the agent a member of the state Realtor association and the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Many low-producing real estate agents are reluctant to cough up roughly $500 per year in Realtor dues, so they join a non-Realtor brokerage like HomeSmart Realty in Greenwood Village or Trelora Colorado in downtown Denver. Agents with those firms can’t call themselves “Realtors.”

You’ve probably seen TV commercials by NAR saying “Make sure your agent is a Realtor.” Their current campaign features the theme, “That’s Who We R.” Both campaigns stress the point that only Realtors subscribe to the Realtor Code of Ethics. There is no code of ethics for non-Realtors.

In fact, however, violations of the Code, such as failure to disclose negative information about a listing or contacting another agent’s client directly, are also violations of state licensing laws. To me, the greater value of dealing with a Realtor like those of us at Golden Real Estate is our commitment to professionalism and to the industry, expressed in part by our willingness to pay those dues.

NAR’s lobbying on behalf of property rights benefits all agents as it does all property owners, and deserves the support of all licensees.

NAR’s ‘Clear Cooperation’ Policy Is a First Step at Eliminating Pocket Listings

A “pocket listing” is a property which the listing agent does not put on the MLS, hoping to sell it himself or get it sold by other agents in his office. It’s not typically in the best interest of the seller, since the property is withheld from the full universe of potential buyers.

The organizing principle of the Multi-List System, or MLS, is “cooperation and compensation.” Every real estate agent working in the public arena needs to belong to the local MLS, because it’s only through the MLS that the agent can show and sell that MLS’s listings and be guaranteed the “co-op” commission displayed on the MLS.

A listing agent, naturally, would prefer not to give a big slice of the listing commission to the “cooperat-ing” broker who brings the buyer. He or she would much rather sell the listing, keeping the entire commission for him or herself. Meanwhile, other agents (and their buyers) are upset when they don’t have the opportunity to show a new listing and submit an offer, especially when there are so few listings on the market, as is currently the case.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) took up the issue of pocket listings last year when it adopted a policy called Clear Cooperation. Essentially the policy says that if an MLS member advertises or promotes a listing in any way — including putting a “coming soon” sign in the yard or mentioning it on social media — that listing must be entered on the MLS within 24 hours. It can be listed as “coming soon” on the MLS, during which time it can’t be shown, including by the listing agent. Once it is shown, it must immediately be changed to “active,” allowing all MLS members to show and sell it.

Unfortunately for sellers, who are the big losers with pocket listings, this policy will never be completely effective. That is evident from the fact that over 7% of listings, by my count, are entered on the MLS only after they are sold. Unless a home remains active on the MLS for 3 or 4 days, it’s unlikely that all potential buyers will have had a chance to compete for it.

You may recall the featured listing in last week’s column. It was listed at $375,000, a price consistent with comparable sales, and we received a full-price offer on the first day. Our policy, however, is to get our sellers to wait four days before going under contract. We had 30 showings and received six offers by day four. By being transparent about the offers received, we were able to bid up the property by  more than $55,000 by day four. We did get an offer $35,000 over listing price on day two, but we waited. Our seller benefited from waiting 2 more days.

Sadly, most listing agents haven’t adopted this practice. They sell their listings too quickly, potentially costing their sellers thousands but also frustrating would-be buyers who might pay more. 

I have calculated that in addition to the 7% of listings being sold with zero days on the MLS, 15% are sold after only 1 or 2 days on the MLS.

One technique for minimizing showings by other agents has been to make a listing “active” but block showings with the showing service. Because the listing is “active,” the listing agent can show the property him or herself without technically violating the clear cooperation policy.

Another technique is the “office exclusive” option.  A listing can be marketed within a brokerage without putting it on the MLS. But once any kind of public marketing takes place, the listing must immediately be put on the MLS as either “coming soon” or “active.”

National Association of Realtors Promotes “Pathways to Professionalism”

As you are probably aware, members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are sworn to abide by the Realtor Code of Ethics. It’s what separates them from the men and women who are licensed to practice real estate but choose not to pay roughly $500 in annual dues to be a member of the local, state and national Realtor associations.

Golden Real Estate requires all its broker associates to join the local Realtor association, which automatically enrolls them in the Colorado Association of Realtors and NAR. Most of us are members of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, although agents have the choice of which local Realtor association to join.

In addition to the Code of Ethics is the voluntary and lesser known Pathways to Professionalism. It is a collection of recommended courtesies which all Realtors should embrace, as we certainly do at Golden Real Estate. Here are those courtesies, broken down into three categories. It should be noted that failure to practice these courtesies cannot form the basis of a complaint by fellow Realtors or members of the public. Here they are, highlighting ones I particularly like:

Respect for the Public

1) Follow the “Golden Rule”: Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.

2) Respond promptly to inquiries and requests for information.

3) Schedule appointments and showings as far in advance as possible.

4) Call if you are delayed or must cancel an appointment or showing.

5) If a prospective buyer decides not to view an occupied home, promptly explain the situation to the listing broker or the occupant.

6) Communicate with all parties in a timely fashion.

7) When entering a property ensure that unexpected situations, such as pets, are handled appropriately.

8) Leave your business card if not prohibited by local rules.

9) Never criticize property in the presence of the occupant.

10) Inform occupants that you are leaving after showings.

11) When showing an occupied home, always ring the doorbell or knock—and announce yourself loudly before entering. Knock and announce yourself loudly before entering any closed room.

12) Present a professional appearance at all times; dress appropriately and drive a clean car.

13) If occupants are home during showings, ask their permission before using the telephone or bathroom.

14) Encourage the clients of other brokers to direct questions to their agent or representative.

15) Communicate clearly; don’t use jargon or slang that may not be readily understood.

16) Be aware of and respect cultural differences.

17) Show courtesy and respect to everyone.

18) Be aware of—and meet—all deadlines.

19) Promise only what you can deliver — and keep your promises.

20) Identify your REALTOR® and your professional status in contacts with the public.

21) Do not tell people what you think — tell them what you know.

Respect for Property

1) Be responsible for everyone you allow to enter a listed property.

2) Never allow buyers to enter a listed property unaccompanied.

3) When showing a property, keep all members of the group together.

4) Never allow unaccompanied access to a property without permission.

5) Enter a property only with permission even if you have a lockbox key or combination.

6) When the occupant is absent, leave the property as you found it (lights, heating, cooling, drapes, etc.) If you think something is amiss (e.g., vandalism), contact the listing broker immediately.

7) Be considerate of the seller’s property. Do not allow anyone to eat, drink, smoke, dispose of trash, use bathing or sleeping facilities, or bring pets. Leave the house as you found it unless instructed otherwise.

8) Use sidewalks; if weather is bad, take off shoes and boots inside property.

9) Respect sellers’ instructions about photographing or videographing their properties’ interiors or exteriors.

Respect for Peers

1) Identify your REALTOR® and professional status in all contacts with other REALTORS®.

2) Respond to other agents’ calls, faxes, and emails promptly and courteously.

3) Be aware that large electronic files with attachments or lengthy faxes may be a burden on recipients.

4) Notify the listing broker if there appears to be inaccurate information on the listing.

5) Share important information about a property, including the presence of pets, security systems, and whether sellers will be present during the showing.

6) Show courtesy, trust, and respect to other real estate professionals.

7) Avoid the inappropriate use of endearments or other denigrating language.

8) Do not prospect at other REALTORS®’ open houses or similar events.

9) Return keys promptly.

10) Carefully replace keys in the lockbox after showings.

11) To be successful in the business, mutual respect is essential.

12) Real estate is a reputation business. What you do today may affect your reputation — and business — for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving! What We at Golden Real Estate Are Grateful for

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I’ve long known the value of practicing gratitude, and Thanksgiving reminds each of us to reflect on our blessings, both individually and as members of our larger communities.

And since these columns are published on Thursdays, it has become a tradition for me to pause on this particular Thursday  to write about my sincere gratitude as an individual, as a husband and step-father, as a Realtor, and as an American.

So, first of all, I’m grateful for having this platform to share with fellow real estate professionals and the general public what I know (and continue to learn) about real estate. Yes, I pay for it, but I have been rewarded greatly for the effort, both in terms of financial gain from the business it generates for me and my broker associates, and by the satisfaction it gives me from indulging in my first and favorite profession, journalism.

To be political for just a moment — and it’s sad to think this is political — I’m grateful for the mainstream media which has weathered four years of assault without forsaking journalistic standards. A free press is essential to our democracy, speaking truth to power unflinchingly.

Naturally, all of us at Golden Real Estate are grateful for those buyers and sellers who have entrusted us with their real estate needs. We know that the sale or purchase of a home is often our clients’ biggest single financial transaction, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Real estate is an interesting profession. For most of us, it was not our first profession. In my case, I didn’t even think of becoming a real estate agent until my 50s. When I earned my license, I discovered several interesting facts about the profession, including that the median age of licensees was my age at the time, 54.

I also learned that it takes several years to become successful in real estate and that the average real estate agent has only two or three closings a year, not enough to make a good living. The majority of new agents give up in their first or second year, having wasted money they could ill afford to lose on software, signs, advertising, licensing and association fees, errors and omissions insurance and more.

I’m grateful when I have the opportunity to educate prospective agents about the difficulty of breaking into this profession and can save them the heartbreak of a lost year or two. But I’m also grateful when I am able to help our own broker associates succeed through the leads this column, our website, and our social media attract for us. As broker/owner, I also serve as a mentor and advisor to them, which I find quite satisfying.

I’m grateful for our MLS (Multiple Listing Service), REcolorado, which has made terrific strides toward being one of the best MLSs in the nation. I’m privileged to represent the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR) on the Rules & Regulations Committee, providing me with insights I’m then able to share in this space.

DMAR, too, has made great strides under its long-time executive director, Ann Turner. I’m grateful to her and the many Realtors who volunteer on DMAR committees, contributing to the high ethics and professionalism of our industry.

Not all real estate agents are members of the Realtor association, but they all benefit from the work that these associations do. We can all be grateful for the work of the National Association of Realtors, to which all the local Realtor associations belong. From its Washington, DC, office, it lobbies Congress to protect property rights and to fend off legislation that is harmful to our profession and in turn to all property owners.

NAR Agrees to More Transparency re: Buyer Agent Commissions

Last week, the Department of Justice simultaneously sued and settled with the National Association of Realtors regarding how brokers representing buyers are compensated and the public disclosure of that information.

As you may know — because I have written about it many times — the seller typically pays the commission of both the listing agent and the agent representing the buyer. The standard listing agreement includes the total commission and specifies how much of that commission will be shared with a buyer’s agent.

In that listing agreement, the total commission typically ranges from 5 to 6 percent, but the amount of that commission that is offered to buyers’ agents is traditionally 2.8% in our market. Our office policy at Golden Real Estate, like that of many brokerages, requires our agents to offer no less than 2.8%, because it has been demonstrated that offering less than 2.8% can result in fewer showings our listings.

Currently, that “co-op” commission is not displayed on consumer-facing MLS websites, but the settlement requires that it be displayed starting in January. Also, agents will be forbidden to tell buyers that their services are “free” or at “no cost to the buyer,” on the premise that the cost of that commission is reflected in the purchase price paid by the buyer.

Under the settlement, brokers who display MLS listings on their websites may not filter out listings which offer less than a specified co-op commission. We have never done that on our website, www.GoldenRealEstate.com

Lastly, the settlement requires that lockbox access be provided to licensed agents who are not members of the same MLS, an issue I have never encountered.

NAR President Apologizes for Past Racist Practices

On his first day as president of the National Association of Realtors, Charlie Oppler said NAR will continue to advocate for equality and inclusion in real estate, and he apologized for NAR policies in the 1900s that contributed to discrimination and racial inequality.

Oppler spoke during the Diversity and Inclusion Summit, issuing a sobering message that sets the tone for his priorities as president of the 1.4-million member organization. “What Realtors did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals.” said Oppler. “It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality. I’m here today, as the president of the National Association of Realtors, to say we were wrong.”

“We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past,” Oppler continued. “But we can look at this problem squarely in the eye. And we can finally say, on behalf of our industry, that what Realtors did was shameful, and we are sorry.”

Oppler recognized the fact that “words aren’t enough,” emphasizing that the association and all Realtors should take “positive action to remedy decades’ worth of inequality.”

We at Golden Real Estate applaud Oppler for his strong statement on this subject.

Click here to read the full NAR press release.

Realtor Code of Ethics to Address Hate Speech

A couple weeks back, I wrote about how the National Association of Realtors is taking fair housing seriously. This week I read in an email newsletter that NAR is proposing changes to its Code of Ethics and professional standards to crack down on racist and discriminatory speech and behavior.

If implemented, the changes would apply NAR’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice to all activities, not just those related to real estate, prohibiting hate speech against protected classes. Protected classes under the Code of Ethics include race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Once these changes are adopted, the Code would prohibit all discrimination, not just willful discrimination, against protected classes and would recommend that ethics violations be considered under membership qualification criteria. Ethics violations could also be referred to governmental agencies for action.

 Discrimination would be deemed “particularly egregious” when determining appropriate discipline, which could include termination of membership for up to three years.

Realtor Association Takes Fair Housing Seriously

While it might be popular to think of Realtors as privileged conservatives (mostly Republicans) who put up with but are not fans of federal civil rights laws, quite the opposite appears to be true now. Liberal thinking Realtors are in ascendance.

An August 22 article from Realtor Magazine, the official magazine of the National Association of Realtors, makes this abundantly clear.

In 2018, NAR leadership laid bare at its legislative meetings in Washington, D.C., the organization’s “immutable past support of discriminatory and racist practices [link],” vowing to deepen its commitment to industry inclusivity and equal opportunity in housing.

The Chicago Association of Realtors, headed by an African-American woman, apologized last year for its “historically racist policies that persisted for decades.”

Click on that link above. Unless you miss the “good old days,” you’ll be heartened by what you read. It makes me proud to be a Realtor. The commitment to equality and justice is rock solid.

Coming: Big Changes to Denver’s MLS

It won’t be that obvious to consumers accessing our MLS at www.REcolorado.com, but agents who login to it will need to adjust to many changes that will take effect this coming Monday, January 13th. We at Golden Real Estate are studying the 45-minute instructional video provided to us by REcolorado.

The reason for the overhaul is to make the MLS database 100% compatible with national standards promulgated by the National Association of Realtors.

Another change coming within the next couple of months is an MLS rule restricting the use of “pocket listings” and “coming soon” listings, which are kept off the MLS, often to benefit the listing agent, not the seller. In a nutshell, the rule will say that any listing by an MLS member must be made active on the MLS within one day of any promotion of the listing, which includes putting a sign in the yard, promoting it online or on social media, or in any other way. 

Look for more details in this space on the roll-out of this rule when we get closer to its implementation. This rule was mandated in November by a nearly unanimous vote of the National Association of Realtors’ board of directors.

Thanksgiving’s Here, and We at Golden Real Estate Are Thankful

Some weeks I struggle to come up with a topic for this column, but not so this week. Allow me to share some of the ways in which our broker associates, my wife and I are all thankful.

First, Rita and I are so thankful to be Americans. In school I studied many languages — French, Russian, Latin, Greek, German and Japanese — and I have traveled extensively around the world, although not so much recently. I attended my sister’s wedding in Sweden, attended “citizen diplomacy” conferences in the Soviet Union, and visited Beijing right after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre (and twice since).

I have visited and marveled at Japan and its culture more than once. I visited the Russian port of Vladivostok (the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway) on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. I remember noting that pay phones there were free because Russian coins were essentially worthless due to inflation, and that most of the cars on the road were right-hand drive Toyotas and Nissans purchased used from nearby Japan.

Rita and I particularly like France and Italy and long to return there again soon. We enjoyed a week in London following a two-week Atlantic crossing on Cunard’s Queen Victoria with stops in  Bermuda and the Canary Islands. When and if I retire from real estate, we look forward to more international travel. 

Every trip is great, but we are always happy to be back in America and especially in Colorado. We are, as I said, thankful most of all to be Americans — and Coloradans.

Part of being an American is the opportunity to participate in our capitalist free enterprise system. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I like to say that, except for my stints at the Washington Post and the New York Post, every paycheck I’ve ever received was signed by me. I remember when I visited the Soviet Union in 1978 learning that Russians could be self employed but only the state could have employees. I realized then that the freedom of enterprise was the core freedom I value most.

Nearly every real estate agent is self-employed, even if they work for a brokerage. I suspect that 95% or more of all Realtors are independent contractors (1099 workers) responsible for their own taxes and expenses (phones, cars, computers, software, etc.) and receive no benefits of any kind. The dropout rate among new agents is as high as 90% and those who make it five or more years have demonstrated a fortitude that deserves respect. I am thankful for Golden Real Estate’s seven top-producing, highly-experienced broker associates whose cell numbers I am pleased to list below.

Next I am thankful for the readers and other members of the public who recognize that we are professionals, not just entrepreneurs, and that we earn what we charge by providing an invaluable service for one of life’s most significant financial transactions. Not everyone sees our value or respects what we provide, so we thank you.

Not every licensed real estate agent is a Realtor — that is, a member of the Realtor association.  Everyone who joins a Realtor brokerage like ours must join the Realtor association and pay Realtor dues, which run about $500 per year. But there are non-Realtor brokerages such as HomeSmart Cherry Creek Properties, Redefy, and Trelora Colorado, whose agents don’t pay Realtor dues and don’t have to abide by the Realtor Code of Ethics. I’m thankful for all those firms, like ours, that have chosen to be Realtor brokerages.

Why? Because the National Association of Realtors (NAR) lobbies for your property rights, not just the interests of its members. For example, when the Trump administration tried to dilute the capital gains exemption for home owners ($250,000 single and $500,000 married), it was NAR which lobbied successfully against that change. I could cite countless other examples where NAR’s lobbying efforts have benefited home owners and all those agents who don’t pay NAR dues. To me it’s a matter of professional and corporate responsibility to support NAR with our dues. So, yes, I am thankful for NAR, even when I gripe about dues increases!

Like everyone in our profession, I have individual clients — buyers and sellers — for whose friendship and patronage I am grateful.  You know who you are! You have not only granted me the opportunity to be of service, but you have allowed me to learn new things from every transaction. Perhaps you have introduced me to a new service provider such as an estate sales company, a roofer or plumber, or just a great new restaurant! As I have said many times, judge us agents not by our years in the business but by the number of transactions we have completed, because that’s our most valuable continuing education program.

I’m also thankful for my colleagues from other brokerages. Real estate is different from many other professions because of the tradition of “cooperation and compensation” embodied in our shared multi-list service, aka “MLS.” Some people compare us to car salesmen, but consider the following scenario: You go to a Ford dealership and describe what you’re looking for. The salesman realizes that the right vehicle for you is not a Ford but another brand, so he shows you other cars on his computer and then takes you to those dealerships for a test drive, knowing that he can write the purchase contract and get paid for selling you another dealer’s car just as he can get paid for selling a car from his own dealership. That’s how real estate works, made possible by the MLS.

You’d be impressed to see how agents share the keys to their success with each other. I recall once when I made a presentation at a Realtor meeting on how to shoot and edit video tours of listings, happy to have others do videos for their listings, even though video tours are a point of differentiation for us at Golden Real Estate.

So I’m thankful for how the real estate business works and for the many Realtors whom I consider friends, not just competitors.  If I or one of my Golden Real Estate broker associates is not the perfect agent for a given buyer or seller, I don’t hesitate to recommend one of them.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the Denver Post and four Jefferson County weekly newspapers which publish this column. Remember, you can also receive it by email, so just send me an email with your request.  Several years of prior columns are online at JimSmithColumns.com.

Our Broker Associates:

Jim Swanson — 303-929-2727

Carrie Lovingier — 303-907-1278

Kristi Brunel — 303-525-2520

Chuck Brown — 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch — 303-908-4835

Andrew Lesko — 720-710-1000

Carol Milan — 720-982-4941